A Sense of Place – La Mortella – Part II

 Coppia piangente.

I continued along the path beyond William’s Rock.  What were these graceful creatures?Since none of the friends or experts I’ve sent photos to have any idea either, until further notice I’m going to call them ‘la Coppia piangente‘ ( lah cope-yuh pyan-jen-tay). The Weeping Couple.

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Close-up of the flower of the ‘Weeping Couple’.

Lately though, I’ve begun to suspect they might be agaves.  I’d seen lots of them growing wild around the island.

But then again, the lower part doesn't look much like an agave.

But then again, the lower part doesn’t look much like an agave.

Australian Silver Oak - Grevilleas.  My lack of interest in names notwithstanding, this flower had such a remarkable, almost Sputnick-like shape, I had to find out what it was.

Grevilleas, aka Australian Silver Oak . My lack of interest in names notwithstanding,
this flower had such a remarkable shape, I just had to find out what it was.

This fountain was a bit too minimalist for my tastes.  But Lady Walton was very fond of it.  She loved the way the sky was reflected in the stainless steel base.

Her memorial nearby was a bit of an eyebrow raiser too.  But I was intrigued by the reference to Genius loci.

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Aphrodite lounges under an ancient inscription – Genius loci.

I’d seen genius loci portrayed in a Lararium –  shrine to the household gods – in Pompeii.

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The genius loci, guardian spirit of the house, in the Lararium of the House of the Vettii, Pompeii.

But what did these guardian spirits of the Ancient Romans have to do with a 20th century garden?

We have to fast forward to the 18th century for the answer.  Alexander Pope, concerned that the latest craze in garden design – the formal, highly geometric French garden – threatened to take over the English countryside, wrote a letter – actually, being the poet that he was, he wrote a poem – ‘Epistle IV to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington’ – in which he reinterpreted genius loci as ‘sense of place’.  In it he encouraged the Earl, and with him, presumably all English gardeners, to ‘consult the genius of the place’ when designing their gardens.

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

Leaving aside some of the statues, I thought Lady Walton had done a brilliant job of capturing the genius loci of what was once a desolate, rocky hillside

Close by was a huge clump of Proteus.  I only know that it’s a Proteus because a friend from South Africa eventually ID’d it for me.  There are so many variations of this plant. No wonder Linnaeus named it after the original Proteus, the Greek god who could change his form at will.

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It was as if the entire cycle of life was played out in that clump.

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By the time you get to the ‘Crocodile Pond’ you’re almost at the top of the mountain. Whew!

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There are of course no real crocodiles – although many visitors have climbed the hill expecting to see some.

The only living wildlife was this very loud frog.

The only living wildlife I could find was this very loud frog.

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I was amazed that hordes of artists hadn’t set up their easels around the pond.

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This section reminded me of Giverny.

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The Lake

At the top of the mountain is a ‘lake’ made of blue glass pebbles.  It was a gift from an American landscape architect, Andy Cao.  I wasn’t so sure about the lake and the creatures in it, but I loved the planting around its shores.

It was time to head back down the mountain.

Another crocodile.

Another crocodile.

This trio of Mediterranean Fan Palms were so gnome-like.

This trio of Mediterranean Fan Palms were so gnome-like.

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Further down the hillside, a few much-needed chairs and behind, the plant which,
in my opinion, has the all-time best common name.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  The flowers start off deep purple, fading to mauve and finally while.  Unusually, all three colours are on display at the same time.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. The flowers start off deep purple, fading to mauve and finally white.
Unusually, all three colours are on display at the same time.

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On the path to the Thai Pavilion, a birdhouse replica next to an Australian Bottlebrush in full bloom.

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Like so many of the tropicals in this garden, to my Canadian gardener’s eyes
the flowers had such a fantastical air about them.

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Lotus fills the pond in front of the life-size Thai Pavilion.

I made my way slowly to the exit.

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One last glimpse of a garden where the genius loci had been truly consulted.

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